Liz Cheney is ready to lose. But she’s not ready to stop.

CHEYENNE, Wyo – It was just over a month before her primary, but Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney was nowhere near the voters weighing her future.

Ms. Cheney instead huddled with fellow lawmakers and aides in the Capitol complex, pushing her allies on a cause she believes is more important than her seat in the House: Liberating US politics from former President Donald J Trump and his influence. .

“We nine have done more to prevent Trump from ever regaining power than any other group,” she told fellow members of the panel investigating Mr Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. “We can’t resist.”

The most-watched primary of 2022 has not become a race at all. Polls show Ms. Cheney is losing heavily to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr. Trump’s vehicle for revenge, and the congresswoman has been nearly evicted from her Trump-loving state, in part because of death threats, her office says.

But for Ms. Cheney, the race was no longer about political survival months ago. Instead, she has used the August 16 contest as a sort of high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a testing ground for her new crusade. She used the single debate to tell voters to “vote for someone else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she enlisted her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to… an advertisement he called Mr Trump a “coward” who poses the greatest threat to America in the history of the republic.

In a state where Trump won 70 percent of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well ask ranchers to go vegan.

“If the cost of championing the Constitution is losing the seat in the House, that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview in the conference room of a Cheyenne bank this week.

The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had visions of rising to the top of the House leadership — but instead ended up as vice president — is arguably the most consistent regular member of Congress in modern times become. Few others have used the levers of the office so aggressively to try to bend the course of American politics — but in doing so, she has essentially sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew up to respect.

Ms. Cheney’s relentless focus on Mr. Trump has sparked speculation — even among longtime family friends — that she is preparing to run for president. She has done little to discourage such talk.

At a house party Thursday night in Cheyenne, as former Vice President Dick Cheney gleefully watched under a pair of stuffed leather chaps, the host introduced Ms. Cheney by recalling how another Republican woman, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy when this was unpopular – becoming the first female major party presidential candidate.

Those in attendance applauded the parallel, while Mrs. Cheney smiled.

In the interview, she said she was focused on her primary — and her work on the committee. But it’s far from clear that she could be a viable candidate in the current Republican Party, or that she has any interest in the donor-class plans for a third-party bid, in part because she knows it can only siphon votes. of a Democrat who opposes Mr Trump.

Ms. Cheney said she was not interested in switching parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the GOP she grew up in was even salvageable in the short term, she said “maybe not” and called her party “very sick”.

The party, she said, “continues to drive itself into a ditch and I think it will take several cycles if it can be cured.”

Ms. Cheney suggested that she was as animated by Trumpism as Mr. Trump himself. She could back a Republican for president in 2024, she said, but her red line is a refusal to state clearly that Mr. Trump has lost a legitimate election in 2020.

Asked if the ranks of off-limits candidates also included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whom many Republicans have clung to as an alternative to Trump, she said she would “find it very difficult” to support Mr. DeSantis in a general election. .

“I think Ron DeSantis has almost completely aligned himself with Donald Trump, and I think that’s very dangerous,” Ms Cheney said.

It’s easy to hear other sounds of a White House bid in Ms. Cheney’s rhetoric.

In Cheyenne, she conveyed the concerns of “mothers” and what she described as their hunger for “someone competent.” Having once largely scorned identity politics — Ms. Cheney was just the female legislator who wouldn’t pose for a photo of the women of Congress after 2018 — she now freely discusses gender and her perspective as a mother.

“Nowadays, for the most part, men lead the world, and things really aren’t going very well,” she said in June, speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

As a sign that Ms. Cheney’s political awakening transcends her disdain for Trump, she said she prefers the ranks of Democratic women with national security backgrounds over her party’s right-wing.

“I’d much rather serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than with Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, although I certainly have significant differences in substance with the Democratic women I just mentioned,” Ms. Cheney said in the interview. “But they love this country, they do their homework and they’re people trying to do the right thing for the country.”

Ms. Cheney is more certain of her diagnosis for what ails the GOP than of her prescription for reform.

She has no political organization on hold after Congress and has taken advantage of Democratic donors, whose affections may be fleeting. To the frustration of some allies, she has not expanded her inner circle beyond her family and a handful of close advisers. She was never much of a schmoozer, she said she longed for what she remembered as her father’s era of policy-oriented politics.

“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in policy debates,” said Ms Cheney.

It’s all a far cry from the Liz Cheney of ten years ago, who was under contract to appear regularly on Fox News and would use her top spot as guest host for Sean Hannity to express her unwavering conservative views and savage former President Barack Obama and the Democrats. present .

Today, Ms. Cheney admits no particular regret for helping to create the atmosphere that prompted Mr Trump’s takeover of her party. However, she acknowledged a “reflexive bias I have been guilty of” and noted that January 6 “showed how dangerous that is.”

Few lawmakers today face these dangers as regularly as Ms. Cheney, who has been on a full-time Capitol Police security detail for nearly a year because of the threats against her — protections that few regular lawmakers are assigned. She no longer gives advance notice of her trip to Wyoming and, unwelcome at most county and state Republican events, has turned her campaign into a series of invite-only house parties.

What’s even more puzzling than her scheme is why Ms. Cheney, who has raised more than $13 million, didn’t put more money into the race, especially in the beginning when she had the chance to define Ms. Hageman. Ms. Cheney had spent about half of her war treasury in early July, sparking speculation that she was saving money for future efforts against Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney stopped attending House Republican meetings a long time ago. When in the Capitol, she spends much of her time with the Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and often goes to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception room for female lawmakers, rather than to the floor of the House. with the male-dominated House GOP conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel have been struck by how often her Zoom background is her home in suburban Virginia.

In Washington, even some Republicans eager to get on with Mr. Trump are questioning Ms. Cheney’s decision to openly go to war against her own party. She is limiting her future influence, they claim.

“It depends on whether you want to go out in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or if you want to try to be effective,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her, but I wouldn’t have made the same choice.”

Ms. Cheney is aware that the Jan. 6 inquiry, with its prime-time hearings, is viewed by critics as an opportunity to draw attention. She has turned down a number of opportunities that could have helped her aspirations, most notably proposals from documentary filmmakers.

Yet, to her skeptics at home, Ms. Cheney’s attacks on Mr. Trump have revived lingering questions about her ties to the state and sparked fears that she’s gone to Washington and taken over the opposition, shattering voters’ political views. which gave her and her father their start in electoral politics.

At a parade in Casper last month, which was held while Ms. Cheney was preparing for a hearing in Washington, Ms. Hageman was regularly applauded by voters who said the incumbent official was lost.

“Her voting is not bad,” said Julie Hitt, a resident of Casper. “But so much of her focus is on January 6.”

“She’s so in bed with the Democrats, with Pelosi and with all those people,” Bruce Hitt, Mrs. Hitt’s husband, intervened.

Remarkably, none of the voters interviewed at the parade raised Ms. Cheney’s support for the gun control bill passed by the House just weeks earlier — the kind of defection that would have infuriated Republicans in Wyoming in an era that is dominated more by policy than by the persona of one man.

“Her vote on the gun bill barely got any publicity,” said Mike Sullivan, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming who plans to vote for Ms. Cheney in the primary. (Mrs. Cheney is urging independents and Democrats to re-register as Republicans, at least long enough to vote for her in the primaries.)

For Ms. Cheney, any sense of bewilderment at this moment—a Cheney, Republican royalty, effectively being read out of the party—has faded in the year and a half since the Capitol attack.

While attending the funeral of former Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi last year, Ms. Cheney welcomed a visiting delegation of GOP senators. As she greeted them one by one, several people praised her bravery and told her to continue fighting Mr Trump, she recalls.

She didn’t miss the chance to remind them emphatically: they too could join her.

“There have been so many moments like that,” she said by the couch, a hint of fatigue in her voice.

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